Authors Electric Down-under in NZ - Kathleen Jones

Katherine Mansfield by Kathleen Jones
I'm writing this in New Zealand, which is a big country with a small population and it's a long way from anywhere by ship or plane.  That makes books expensive - particularly imported books.  There are quite a few small publishers here, and there are off-shoots of big publishers - like Penguin and Random House, but the print-runs are short and the costs high.   When Penguin NZ published my Katherine Mansfield biography, I was horrified to find out how much it cost to buy (about £50).  The consequence of the economic downturn is that publishers have been struggling here (Penguin have been taken over by Random House) just as they have elsewhere - and book shops have fared badly too.  There are wonderful small independent bookshops, but the big chains, like Whitcoulls, have been in deep financial trouble. 

New Zealand is the kind of place that is perfect for the e-reader - no distribution costs and access to the free/discount book zone. But you don't see very many people with Kindles or Kobos.  NZ has a reputation for being behind the times, so maybe that's it.  The bigger bookstores have begun to sell Kobos, and you can order a Kindle from Amazon, but only the paper white, not the Kindle Fire which seems a bit unfair, since it's available almost everywhere else.

But interesting things are starting to happen on the e-book scene here.  The publishing director of Penguin NZ who originally bought my Mansfield biography left a couple of years ago (just after bringing it out) to go freelance.   Recently he contacted me about a digital venture he's become involved in - the start-up of an e-singles project with a small publisher called Bridget Williams Books, which has set up a publishing trust.  They will initially be publishing some 'important' non-fiction titles, by some of NZ's best authors, anything from 5,000 to 30,000 words in size.  I'm delighted (actually ecstatic!) that they've also decided to publish a chapter of my Mansfield biography as a 'stand-alone' and that I'm going to be part of the launch of New Zealand's very first e-singles.

And that's not the only development here.   Last year my publicist at Penguin (just before the Random House take-over) also left to freelance, making her services available to indie authors. You can find Raewyn Davies profile on LinkedIn, if you're in need of a good publicity manager.   It's symptomatic of the shift, all over the world, from big, 'traditional' publishing to a more fragmented, creative environment.  More and more authors down here are self-publishing, though it's not the big thing that it is in Britain or the USA.

But perhaps that's about to change.

One of the interesting ideas that's sprung up here is The Story Mint, launched in 2012 by Suraya Dewing.  It's a similar idea to, in that it offers peer reviewing and assistance to budding authors, eventually helping the ones that rise to the top to get into print.   A lot of people are talking about it.

And then there's Penelope Todd, who has set up Rosa Mira Books - 'NZ's first independent E-book publisher'.   She is an NZ author who worked in traditional publishing and found that, in 2009, alongside quite a number of other editors and people-who-really-knew-about-books, she was no longer employed because her employer had been taken over by Random House.  Penelope had been thinking about setting up a digital publishing company for some time and, although she knew very little about the technical aspects of e-publishing, she forged ahead with her idea.  Being out of a job was a kick-starter.
'I had a website designed, got the name trademarked, read up, visited business consultants, fretted, negotiated with my first author, edited her fine novel, and took the many now-invisible steps that begin a brand new enterprise.'  It was launched in 2011 with a novel called The Glass Harmonica.   Rosa Mira have a lively blog here.

It's very interesting to go to another country and find out how they do things. I've been flicking through catalogues and looking at websites and prowling round book shops.  What's been fascinating me is that New Zealand publishing has been dominated by big International Names in recent decades, but as that unravels, the smaller independent publishers that are emerging have a stronger, more recognisably Kiwi identity. They no longer have to edit and 'sanitise' their books to meet the demands of a global corporation.   And now Independent E-publishing is going to give these publishers access to the international market without having to adapt the product to US or European tastes - you can't chop up the internet into exclusive territories - an e-book is available anywhere and that's got to be good for New Zealand.   We're all going to be able to read New Zealand fiction and non-fiction with its native character intact!

Kathleen Jones blogs at
Find out more about her books at
Visit Kathleen's Page on Amazon


I wonder if Maori literature will flourish more widely...or Aboriginal in some point because of this busting down of the gates.

"you can't chop up the internet into exclusive territories"

Can't help being reminded of the plan to give 1950s NZ author Janet Frame the chop through that scheduled lobotomy, which then got cancelled when her book won a big literary award...

I wonder if epublishing will prevent any lobotomies...of course, it has already slowed/prevented the worldwide attempt at lobotomising mankind through the buying up of traditional publishing companies by mobile phone operators and tabloid far so good then!
julia jones said…
This is really interesting. Thanks Kathleen
Bill Kirton said…
Very interesting eye-opener on the broader picture, Kathleen. Even though we have the impression that our networking is global, there's still a lot of ignorance (in my head at least) about circumstances elsewhere. I'm ashamed to find that my view is still so strongly Eurocentric. Thanks for the enlightenment.
Lee said…
I'm glad to hear about these initiatives, since it's terribly frustrating not just for readers in your country but also for those in this part of the world who want to get hold of New Zealand writing. And even Australian stuff is sometimes hard to come by, unless you're prepared to pay a fortune in overseas postage!
Kathleen Jones said…
Interesting points - John, I'm sure Maori literature will do better under local management - Bridget Williams Books have several Maori titles they're planning to digitise. One of the results of the E-revolution does seem to be the breakdown of the globalisation that turned everything from everywhere into a same/same sludge.
Bill - I share your guilt - it's easy to be eurocentric over here - and we're so used to thinking in territories rather than internationally.
Lee - like you I'm just really glad that now some of the best writing from down-under can be accessed here easily and cheaply.
Dennis Hamley said…
It's interesting to compare notes with my own NZ experience. Whitcoull does seem to be doing quite well but smaller concerns like Scorpio seem to be flourishing too. The children's book scene is pretty vibrant. There's more around now than Hairy McLairy from Donaldson's Dairy. The Christchurch earthquake seems to have given a bit of a fillip: just as well, because it's now realised that it gave young children in the city a pretty big traumatic shock, shown by the new local prevalence of bedwetting until 4 or 5. There have been a few interesting picture books about the earthquake experience. A few years ago I gave a talk to the South Island Librarians' conference. I met some Kiwi authors: David Hill, Vince Ford and Brian Falkner for example. They are fine writers for children, humorous and witty, who would go down well here but I'm not aware of their being published in the UK. The great Margaret Mahy was in the audience. AND SHE SPOKE TO ME APPROVINGLY. It was like being complimented by the Queen! Maori literature is gaining a stronger profile. There's a lot more than The Whale Rider (brilliant book) around. And a fierce and protective sense of ownership as well. I told a Maori librarian that I was thinking of doing some Maori folk tale retellings for British kids. I got a very stern warning-off. There's a new assertiveness and though it's causing a bit of upset in the European community it can only be good in the long run. Once There Were Warriors chronicled a sad decline. One of the biggest features of health in NZ literature worlwide is the huge international success of the Kids' Lit Quiz, run by the charismatic prfessor from Auckland Wayne Mills. Top man. It's a joy to be associated with it. It should come to a school near you at any time when you least expect it. No, I didn't find much ereading either. Everybody knew what my Kindle was but a surprising number didn't quite know what it did! NZ sometimes complains about its isolation but it is rather proud of it as well - and is gradually overcoming it. 24 hoiurs by plane is better than 6 months on a sailing ship!
Mark Chisnell said…
I had two thrillers published by HarperCollins in NZ, I'm still in contact with the marketing director, and I'm intrigued to see what she thinks of this...! So I sent her the link.
Unknown said…
As a debut NZ author I found no interest locally, and (a few years ago) overseas agents & publishers were only willing to look at physical manuscripts - no emails!. The cost of overseas posting of a ream of A4 made me think twice and was ultimately fruitless. In the end I found a publisher in the US who was prepared to deal with everything electronically - including e-publishing in preference to hard copy. I agree NZ is a good few years behind with e-readers, but that's down to the suppliers and marketing people; Kiwis are otherwise very tech-savvie. But it's a small market for the global companies to set up in. With an ebook my work is on every digital bookshelf just about globally 24/7.
Dennis Hamley said…
Mark, that's interesting. We must get in touch. Our next NZ visit (my partner's a Kiwi) will probably be next January to March. Kathleen, I don't know what Whitcoull's trading figures are but every branch I went in last time seemed pretty full to me!
Kathleen Jones said…
Dennis - all I know is that last year Whitcoull's almost went down. I'm not sure what happened, or how they're coping. It was around the same time that Waterstones and Barnes and Noble were in big trouble.

Matt - thanks for the input - it's good to hear from an NZ author. Can we know what the book is? You never know - we might just want to buy :-)
Unknown said…
Thanks Kathleen - I wasn't sure about the protocol so didn't post a link. The book is a thriller entitled 'Milkshake'. You can find it at:
or the equivalent Amazon UK, Canada site etc. A sequel 'The Destiny Stone' is in the final edit stage.

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